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A longtime activist's history of pride celebrations in San Diego

Nicole Murray-Ramirez shares about the 46-year evolution of San Diego Pride

Editors note: This year's San Diego Pride weekend may have looked different than we are used to, but it will still be one to add to the long legacy of pride celebrations in the city. Longtime activist Nicole Murray-Ramirez shared his history of San Diego's pride celebration with us and we are publishing it below.

Pride in San Diego began 46 years ago when Vietnam veteran Jess Jessup, ACLU attorney Tom Houman, and I, visited the downtown San Diego Police Department to secure a parade permit for a planned “parade/gay march.”  At the time I was living as a trans drag queen leading police officials at the desk to at first assume I was female.  When we informed police staff why we were there, they quickly realized we were homosexuals and denied issuing us a permit.

The police sergeant not only refused to issue the permit but also threatened us with arrest, adding “There will never be a gay parade in San Diego,” before ordering us to leave the station.

That year over 100 of us marched anyway. We marched from the Center for Social Services in a house at 2250 B Street to Balboa Park and back. However in order to avoid arrest for unlawful assembly- we organized and marched on the sidewalk. Many of those marching wore brown paper bags over their heads, as shocked nearby residents and park visitors launched hate filled homophobic verbal attacks.

The following year, in 1975, we returned and threatened the City of San Diego with an ACLU lawsuit. The City, fearing a loss or expensive litigation, relented and issued the parade permit to attorney Tom Homman. That year the parade traveled through Broadway up to Fifth Avenue and then to Balboa Park with 400 participants, where we held our first rally, in which both Jess Jessup and I were honored to speak and welcome the crowd. .

Prior to 1976, homosexuals in California had a very different life than we do today. In that era, LGBTQ people could be sent to the State mental hospital with a stroke of a pen by a judge or by one’s parents. Countless individuals were subjected to electronic shock treatments and including even inhumane treatments such as lobotomies. Many of them never returned home after being sent away.

During that era assaults, robberies, and even the murders of LGBTQ people were rarely fully investigated. Many of these murders have similarities to serial killers operating in Sothern California which were targeting young gay men. Sadly many of those murders remain unsolved today.

As we progressed through the 70’s, police relations remained strained. Gay and lesbian bars and nightclubs were frequently raided by the San Diego Police Department. Patrons and couples could be arrested for dancing with someone of the same-sex - many who were booked and charged with the crime of “lewd conduct.” Transgender individuals and drag queens could be arrested and booked for “cross dressing.”  The allegations and names of those arrested were often published in newspapers and on the evening TV news, resulting in men being outed, losing their jobs; homes, and even their families. These allegations were in essence imposing a societal punishment- even in cases where charges were dropped.

By the 1980’s major cities around the world were commemorating the anniversary of the Stonewall riots with parades in their cities like Mexico City, Sydney, Montreal and London. But the 1980’s was also the beginning of the AIDS pandemic.

Sadly, both Jess Jessup and Tom Homman died of AIDS in the 1980’s but not before leaving a legacy of community service and advocacy for the social justice for all people.

With their deaths and the deaths of other people who were dying of AIDS, the tone of our parades shifted to one of anger and demonstrations as we united and marched for action from our government in the face of the AIDS pandemic. AIDS united the LGBTQ community to fight the disease through the 1990’s, and then the fight for marriage equality united us in the 2000’s. In 2020- our community is again united to fight COVID-19, by choosing to put the safety of our communities first and reorganizing our face-to-face events as virtual events where anyone can participate from the comfort and safety of their homes. We know that by taking these steps- Pride will be back stronger when the Coronavirus pandemic is controlled.

Each year as Pride comes, I often wonder what Jess and Tom would think of the parade and celebrations which we co-founded together. I wonder what their reactions would be to see over 200,000 people come together with members of Congress, our Governor and Lieutenant Governor, Presidential  Candidates, our City May and First Lady of San Diego, Churches, Temples, as well as big corporate sponsors, marching with the support of and including the San Diego Chief of Police and a large contingent from every law enforcement agency and military branch.

I wonder what they would say to see a candidate for the Presidency of the United State - who is not only gay, but a proud military veteran. How would they react to know that first woman president of the California State Assembly is a proud lesbian woman? Or that that the Majority Whip of the Assembly is a proud gay man of color. Or that we have openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals serving in the US Senate and Congress?

Knowing them and their history with our Pride Parade,

I know that they would be marching side-by-side with Black Lives Matter, fighting for women’s rights, standing up for immigrants, and gun safety and demanding action in the issues our country faces today. And even though this year- in the face of Covid-19, San Diego LGBTQ pride adapts to a virtual format, I know that Jess Jessup and Tom Homman  would join me in to celebrate this year‘s message of “Together We Ruse,” while also reminding our community to come ”Out of the closet and into the voting booths!”

About Nicole Murray-Ramirez

Nicole Murray-Ramirez, is a Latino and LGBTQ activist and has been active for over half a century. He has advised and served the last eight Mayors of San Diego in various roles, including co-chair of the LGBTQ Advisory Committee. Murray-Ramirez currently serves as both a City and County Commissioner under their respective Human Rights Commissions. 

Murray-Ramirez is the Chair of the National GLBT Civil Rights Network, and the Chair/Executive Director of the International Imperial Court System of the United States, Canada and Mexico, one of the oldest international LGBTQ organizations in the world. The organization was founded in 1965 and now has 70 chapters throughout North America. He is also the only gay activist who has been elected to the planning board of all four “March On Washington” political protests.  The rallies were first held in 1993 drawing conservative police estimates of 800,000-over 1,000,000 attendees, making it the largest protest in United States history— a distinction held until 2017. Today it remains as one of the top five largest political mass gatherings in history.